MPs threw a spotlight on sea ports' cavalier approach to safety yesterday and warned that too few resources are devoted to the industry.
Ports are required to confirm that they are complying with the Port Marine Safety Code every three years but the Commons transport committee said this was mostly overlooked.
The committee added that organisations representing marine pilots, who guide ships in and out of ports, said they lacked confidence in the Department for Transport (DfT).
The MPs said that in their two inquiries into the coastguard service they received the same impression from coastguards as they had from marine pilots "that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the DfT are not trusted because they do not properly understand maritime issues."
They said the Port Marine Safety Code was praised as a world leader but scant resources were devoted to monitoring code compliance.
Committee chairwoman Labour MP Louise Ellman said that although ports had a good safety record "when problems occur, there can be terrible consequences in terms of loss of life, pollution and damage to property."
She said: "We cannot tell to what extent ports follow government guidance on port safety because most fail to confirm to government that they comply with the guidance. There are also few publicly available statistics about accidents and near-misses in ports. This has to change."
The committee also said it was opposed to a government-supported proposal to relax the rules on granting pilotage exemption certificates to more junior navigating officers, which could jeopardise safety.
Maritime union RMT general secretary Bob Crow pledged to continue the fight against cutting corners and deregulation in the industry.
He said: "The drive to cut staff, slash budgets and chip away at safety standards is storing up a major tragedy and this timely report should set the alarm bells ringing and decisive action is required before it is too late."